On Politics, Journalism, and Zombies

[SPOILERS for the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and first four chapters of the fourth book, Feedback, can be found in this post. I’ll warn you before we get there, but if you want to stop now, I don’t blame you.]

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. On the one hand, I love theoretical politics. Various political and economic theories fascinate me, and I’ll happily discuss any current issue until whomever I’m speaking with agrees with me just to get me to shut up (filibustering is my favorite method of “winning” an argument). On the other hand, applied politics is dirty and frustrating. It involves compromises, backroom deals, scheming and hypocrisy. Even the most well-meaning politicians must be somewhat two-faced to be effective, and it makes politics as a profession somewhat dirty. Still, the idea of pure, unsullied politics appeals to me.

Cover of 'Feedback' by Mira Grant

‘Feedback’ is the fourth book set in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh universe.

The flip side of that coin is journalism. Journalists, as the “fourth estate,” are a vital part of the fabric of any free society. Where the “pure” politician is always going to be a little distasteful, the pure journalist feels like something of a hero. The little guy, looking for the truth, often pitted against the most powerful and influential of people, who have a vested interest in making sure that truth isn’t revealed. Unfortunately, as in all things, reality falls a bit short here, too. Journalists are human beings, who have their own biases and flaws. The reality of our economy and people’s short attention spans mean that click-bait and alarmist thinking are always going to get the dollars; journalists, who generally like to eat, are forced to give into that. Again, though, the concept of the journalist as the plucky hero is golden.

Finally, I love zombies. Even before the glut of zombie fiction we’ve had the last few years, I’ve found them fascinating. I don’t care so much about the stories told in The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later (though, I enjoyed the first few seasons of TWD and love 28 Days Later). While I enjoy the pure action and horror of the stories, I’m more fascinated by the world building aspects of the zombie genre. What, exactly, does the presence of these eating machines do to people’s ability to survive? What impact does it have on society when a sudden heart attack can turn a mild-mannered family man into a carnivorous monster who is contagious to boot?

Put all of this together, and Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Blackout, and Deadline) seem tailor-made for me. A team of blogger/journalists are hired to follow a Presidential candidate on the campaign trail, in a world where the zombie apocalypse happened twenty years ago and is still very much a danger? Yes, please. While neither of the two sequels are quite as good as the first book (and I never quite got over some of the distasteful stuff in those novels, details of which I’m leaving out here for spoiler reasons), the first book is a masterpiece and the other two are excellent. Late last year, when my reading time was cut somewhat short by the presence of a new baby in the house, Mira Grant’s fourth Newsflesh novel, Feedback, was released. According to Amazon, I bought it the day it was released, but I never really got around to reading it until today.

[SPOILERS for the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and first four chapters of the fourth book, Feedback, can be found below this line.  You have been warned.]

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The Patient Gamer, Volume 1

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

When we were discussing this group blog project, one of my co-writers suggested that we should review the Xbox Live Games With Gold games each month. Unfortunately, that same co-writer got a case of the “somebodies,” as in, “Somebody should review them, but I don’t really mean me.” For this first review, I nominated myself to be somebody. Games with Gold are, by necessity, older games, and I suggested that we should call the regular feature “Late to the Party,” but, honestly, the more I used it, the less I liked it. Thus, The Patient Gamer was born. If my co-writers don’t like it, well, they should’ve volunteered to review an old game.

The current Games with Gold are Borderlands 2 (360), Project Cars, and Layers of Fear. I would have been happy to review any of those three games (especially Borderlands 2, which I already owned and enjoyed). Unfortunately, something came up. That something was the announcement of Middle Earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. That announcement reminded me that I’d never actually finished Mordor, so I jumped back into it.

Mordor isn’t a new game, and, if you’re reading this, you’ve almost certainly heard of it, even if you haven’t played it. Set between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings, it tells the story of Talion, a human who is somehow merged with a wraith and given a form of immortality. The wraith has no real memories of who it was, so the two start out on a mission of revenge against those who killed Talion and his family, while trying to figure out exactly what happened to them.

It’s a large, open-world game set in the Lord of the Rings universe, which is one or two points in its favor right there, depending on one’s feelings about Tolkein’s Legendarium. The combat is very similar to the Arkham series of Batman games, which is a huge point in its favor. When you’re surrounded by orcs and only technically fighting one or two at a time, the combat system still makes you feel like you’re in the midst of a huge brawl. The biggest winning feature of Mordor, supposedly to be expanded on in War, is the Nemesis system.

In the nemesis system, there are orc captains (or Warchiefs, at higher levels) who lead large groups of orcs. Those captains each have their own limited personalities, with traits that modify how they fight.  More importantly, if you encounter one, he remembers you. If he killed you (one of the major points of the game is that your character returns to life after death, and the orcs know that about you), he’ll make a comment about it. If you killed him and he

Otha Ugly Face is a new Nemesis.

I think this was the first time I’d met Otha. Just after taking this picture, a second Captain showed up and distracted me, giving Otha the chance to kill me…

“escaped” (which means you got the kill animation, but the game somehow decided that he didn’t actually die when his head exploded or whatever), he not only remembers, but may bear some scars (physical and mental) from that encounter. Burn an orc to “death”, and he may return with a fear of burning.

The whole thing makes the game’s open world seem more alive than it should, and increases the replay value immensely. Let’s face it, this isn’t Skyrim. The open world in question here is all set within Mordor, the heart of Sauron’s evil empire, and it’s populated almost entirely by Orcs, human slaves, and monsters. There’s no thieves guild or Companions to join, it’s just you and your weapons, with pretty limited quest lines. If it weren’t for the Nemesis system (and, to a lesser extent, the good will earned simply by being set in a pre-existing fantasy universe), Mordor would feel like a fun proof-of-concept in want of a game. The Nemesis system completely redeems that, and makes the quest to kill all the orcs (and regain the wraith’s memories, which, honestly, felt like more of a subplot than a driving force of the game) feel entertaining a lot longer than it would otherwise be.

All in all, the plot of Mordor leaves a lot to be desired, but the Nemesis system alone makes it entirely worth playing. I’d give it a 8/10, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.